The United Nations General Assembly, in collaboration with the Organization of African Unity, adopted resolution 55/60, which established “World Refugee Day”. In light of the Arab spring, the creation of the new state of Azawad from parts of Mali, the continuing military and political conflicts in parts of Africa and the Middle East, and the general humanitarian crises still occurring in many areas of the world, this day is a pertinent one as it recognizes the plight of refugees, who are voiceless and vulnerable.
News regarding refugees has not been at all uplifting. According to the Voice of America, 42 million people have been “forcibly removed from their homes”, and 800,000 people were forced to migrate across borders just last year alone, a migration figure that outweighs any since 2000. As refugees have traveled abroad, some have never arrived at their intended destinations. For example, according to Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, 1,500 Libyans left for Europe but never arrived. Others are left to drown off the shores of Europe right before the eyes of European Naval guards, and those who arrive, are known to be mistreated and placed in squalid and cramped detention facilities.
The United Nation High Commission for Refugees released a report in 2010 that indicates that 80% of the world refugees are located in developing countries, with Pakistan, Iran, and Syria being noted to have the largest population of refugees. But another region has come into focus as the Arab Spring erupted last year: Europe.
Much of Europe has garnered special attention due to the Euro crisis, Greek elections, the Euro cup, and high unemployment figures. It has also been noted that xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments are running high as a result of the prevalent and unending economic malaise, an issue which the ultra-nationalist parties seek to capitalize on. Still elections that have occurred in Europe so far–in France and Greece–shows that voters aren’t giving into the cacophony propaganda of the ultra-right. Greece, for example, has been struggling with illegal immigrants emanating fro Turkey, since it shares a porous border. One would assume that the Greeks would elect the neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party, but they chose the New Democratic party instead. Now, it should be noted that the newly elected party isn’t entirely known for holding pro-immigrant stances; for example, Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democractic Party, recently said he “would kick illegal immigrants out of Greece’s public squares”. But still, in this election race, he would be considered the lesser of the two evils.
As European member states are enduring the Eurozone crises as well as facing disharmony on many economic decisions being advocated by Germany, there are concerns that concrete and unified strategies to provide support for refugees and asylum seekers are becoming endangered. As Paul Haydon for the Guardian put it:
There are fears that with economic and political pressures growing, we may increasingly see a regulatory race to the bottom, with countries attempting to make their asylum policies more restrictive than their neighbours in a form of “burden shifting”.
This sort of unco-operative approach also threatens the freedom of movement that underpins the single market and brings significant economic benefits to European countries, including the UK. For example, when the Italian government last year issued Tunisian migrants with temporary residence permits and tacitly encouraged them to go to France, the French government responded by temporarily blocking trains from Italy. While just last week the European Council agreed to give national governments more freedom to impose border controls within the Schengen zone, excluding the European parliament from co-legislating in this area and potentially threatening labour mobility.
Ultimately though, it is refugees themselves who stand to suffer most from the lack of co-operation between European countries and the shrinking of asylum space. While conditions in detention centres continue to deteriorate in the EU’s peripheral states, increasing numbers of asylum seekers are arriving, fleeing regional conflicts such as the ongoing brutal civil wars in Syria or Somalia, only to find themselves living in inhumane living conditions and in fear of racist attacks…
The world today recognizes the valiant efforts of those whose sought and continue to seek safety and security in areas where they are not accepted as individuals deserving humane treatment. Let us remember and stand with the millions who are currently unable to determine their future, decide their present, and are forced to forget their past. Let us find unified, viable and practical solutions, from contributions by various civil societies to governments, that can ultimately mitigate, if not prevent, the disasters which interrupt and upend the lives of millions. And let us remind ourselves that World Refugee Day for those that are displaced is everyday.